Poetry for Strangers is about finding inspiration in community, in people, in the chance encounters of everyday life. PFS suggests that every person can be a “muse” of a poem. Every week of this year I will ask a stranger for a single word and then write a poem inspired by the word. I invite you to do the same.

Share your poem on this week’s word!


One of my writing program colleagues this summer is Peter Richards. His poems have won awards and when I looked them up, I understood why. He used the phrase “laundered Pez” to describe a taste in his poem “Sand Piper with Roofer.”

The word he gave me was one I had to look up. It means either “a chest for holding ammunition” or “a watertight chamber used in construction work under water or as a foundation.” As in, the tall things that secure bridges into the mud.

But it had another meaning: caisson disease is another word for decompression sickness or “the bends” – the reason scuba-divers cannot rush straight to the surface of the water.

The Stranger: Peter

The Word: Caisson

The poem I wrote:

The risk of ascent is the gas
bubbling up your tissue,
death by stagger, bend, and choke:
not worse than drowning,
but close. Anyone who knows
more than one element
will say there is no such thing
as being watertight. To live
like a caisson in both worlds,
sky and mud, is to know the risk
of going deep anywhere, how
if you have any space inside you,
you live in danger of being
permeable to some other person,
flooded, eaten inside with water:
I ate every bit of you my daughter
once told me and she was right.


The Challenge: Do you have a poem on this word? Write one here.